Allan Bevere has an excellent post on his blog about the relationship between Mission and Evangelism. In it he questions the seemingly popular notion that there should be a strong distinction between the physical act of doing mission work and the verbal sharing of the gospel in evangelism.
In part he writes:
For Christians, mission and evangelism should be intrinsically related to one another. I am going to Haiti in October as an expression of service to Jesus Christ. Whether I am digging a well or sharing my faith in conversation with someone at the work site, both are motivated by my belief that Jesus is the Savior and Lord of all the world. When I am digging a well I am embodying my faith in Jesus and when I am speaking of Jesus, I am presenting the reason for why I am digging the well– to assist whomever I can in need because Jesus, who is Lord of the World, would do no less. The mission/evangelism distinction assumes that mission is something other than evangelism and that evangelism is something other than mission. (emphasis mine) Mission is only doing and evangelism is only speaking. Can anyone who reads the Bible seriously believe this? Why can’t mission also be speaking and evangelism also be doing?
I find Allan’s argument compelling. From a biblical point of view, it does seem highly artificial to separate mission from evangelism. In so many ways, they are two sides of the same coin. One is more verbal, the other more action-oriented. Still, they are both about sharing the love and grace of God in the good news of Jesus Christ.
So why the distinction? If it is so artificial to separate one from the other, why do we do it?
I tend to agree with Allan’s analysis here as well. Perhaps it’s because many of us in the mainline church are afraid to put our love of Jesus into words. Possibly, we’re scared to death to verbally tell someone about Jesus and invite them to give their lives to God. So, instead, we silently do something nice for them, hoping that somewhere along the way they pick up on the unspoken hint that this is all about Jesus.
Mind you, I am purposely overstating that. But, it does capture the “lives of quiet desperation” that I see in the UMC every day. Laity and clergy alike are terrified to “evangelize” someone. So, we remain silent, do nice things called mission work, and hope God does the rest.
Perhaps this is why we are shrinking as a denomination. If so, maybe it’s time to find the courage to put our love into words again, alongside our gracious acts of kindness and love. After all, when mission and evangelism are rightly employed together, they are a powerful combination.
What do you think?